Merry belated Christmas!

The following was originally published in the Terrace Standard, December 24, 2014 as my monthly column “Just a Thought,” and though Christmas day has passed, I hope you still find my words appropriate. After all, the good parts of the holiday season–and maybe some of the hard aspects too–remain, as a brand new year looms bright and close, shiny with potential!
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Christmas CatI’m supposed to be writing a Christmas column, and I have the room’s mood and atmosphere just right. The tree is aglow. Tea light candles light every dark corner and make the shadows cozy. A tiny Victorian village rests on a mantle beside me, while a lovely, ancient-looking nativity scene takes the place of honor on our buffet. I even have a festive beverage.

But words and ideas are slow to come. I just want to daydream or putter about my house—a sure sign I have a deadline looming! Practically the only time I want to do housework is when I’m supposed to be writing something.

It’s not that I’m not feeling merry; it’s just that my thoughts are a jumble this month. I’m feeling that weird Christmas mixture of mingled joy, gratitude and excitement and sorrow and longing that seems to be part and parcel of the season.

My dad’s passing feels official now, and in a lot of ways I miss him more now than when my grief was fresh. It’s like it has finally sunk in after two years. He’s really gone, not just on an extended holiday or work trip, gypsy-ing around like he loved to do.

The anniversary of his death and my mom’s and my mother-in-law’s hit bang, bang, bang this time of year. It’s a cliché that you miss people more during the holidays—a cliché, I guess, because it’s true. And in another cliché, I find myself wishing desperately that I could talk to him, to them, even one more time. I have so much I want to say, so much I want to ask. . . .

On the other hand, I’m struck by the wonderful juxtaposition and celebration of life—and all its loveliest elements—anew this time of year.

My youngest niece turned one. So fun! A nephew has learned to read fluently and loves it (so, of course, I’m over the moon, as reading well is one of the greatest joys, most valuable teachers, sweetest of comforts, and strongest creators of connection to other people, ideas, and cultures that we can possess). One of my siblings has a baby on the way!

Other young relatives are growing from childhood into young adulthood and while it’s challenging for them and their parents sometimes, I love catching glimpses of the grown-ups they’ll be.

My daughter and her husband are full of Christmas plans and festive surprises for each other. So cute to watch. I often laugh as I take in their interactions and silly banter and feel a sense of wonder. Were C and I ever so young? And, of course, we were. I mean, we are. Heh heh.

My son, always good for holiday cheer, had almost every game we own out on the table the other night. No truer sign exists that the holidays are upon us than that!

And I guess those details hint at how I’m feeling as Christmas 2014 approaches, fortunate and blessed that even while my thoughts are filled with people I miss, I am simultaneously surrounded by family and friends I love so much. We don’t know how long we get to keep and enjoy our loved ones, so amid the fun, games, food and noise—and inevitable moody times or stress, mine and theirs—I aim to appreciate and treasure every minute with them.

Whether this year finds you happy or sad, stressed out or excited, lonely or pressured, mourning or joyful, may good memories warm you, and may you feel God’s presence and peace in 2015.

Wooly Thoughts

Purple Haze. Photo credit: Ev Bishop

I’m learning to knit. (Emphasis on the learning—though my very patient, good-humored instructor/friend may laughingly, kindly—but mockingly nonetheless—question if I’m actually learning anything. I might have to post a picture to Facebook to prove that I have mastered, er . . . managed, the knit stitch and the purl stitch now.)

When I told her, pre-first lesson, that I was a complete beginner I don’t think she realized that meant I had never knitted a stitch in my life. People downplay their abilities all the time. Not me. It took me a full hour to grasp how to make the slipknot needed in order to cast on. I even had to be shown how to hold the needles, for crying out loud—but I digress.

“You’re overthinking it,” she said. I couldn’t argue. Overthinking is what I do. In fact, I’ve made it an art, not merely a way to procrastinate. Over the next few weeks I thought a lot about my overthinking while I knit row after row after row—only to take out every stitch and restart from scratch multiple times.

I really like knitting. It’s incredibly soothing to sit, mug of tea close at hand, repeating the same stitch again and again, watching as a lovely (in my current project) swath of deep purples, plums, and blues—like a night sky over the ocean—grows in a gentle swell beside me. I haven’t quite reached the phase where I can knit without looking (though I can glance up, hold a conversation, etc.), but I can let my mind roam—or my mind insists on roaming all on its own. And with my hands busy, whatever topics I dwell on, even not-so-nice stuff and “hard” things, seem more manageable somehow.

As a culture, we’ve benefited a lot from automation and the invention of a bazillion machines and tools to replace work previously done by hand, free time being our biggest gain. Yet in losing those types of chores, I find myself wondering if we also haven’t lost something important—an age-old way our brains used to cope with worry, stress or sadness.

When doing productive work that engages my brain just enough to keep me attentive to my surroundings, but not so much that I can’t think about separate things, solutions to everyday problems seem to arrive out of nowhere. It’s like moving through the rows of a project causes my thoughts to move forward too. I can’t stay stuck on one track or dwell too obsessively.

And unlike so many other parts of life where there are no easy answers, perfect solutions, or quick fixes, there’s something very satisfying and rewarding about this type of tangible-results task: I worked for this long; I accomplished this.

North American culture, one of the wealthiest and most pleasure-orientated of any society, ancient or modern, is also one of the most unsettled and discontent. We’re bombarded by noise, images, and information constantly—at work, at school, and, ever-increasingly, at home too—and all too often we have no outlet, no avenue to deal with the sensory overload.

Enter knitting—or some other wooly-brained pursuit. I don’t think the majority of us will ever make all our own clothing, blankets and bedding again, but we can all benefit from reclaiming some of those old skills. Learn to knit, even just to make your own dishcloths. Darn socks and sweaters (and teach your kids). Bring back the mending basket—where shirts or pants with torn seams sit, then get repaired on a wet afternoon, instead of being thrown out. It’s healthy for the pocketbook, environmentally responsible—and good for our heads.

I suspect I have many, many scarves in my future, and that’s, well, perfect. I like scarves. And so does my brain. Never felt a minute’s stress or mental overload? Lucky jerk, ha ha—knit anyway. It’s also just plain fun.

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“Wooly Thoughts” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, November 26, 2014 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”

The Sweet Dregs of Summer

“Wood nymph me” – Photo by Vello Sork © 2014

The last mouthful of a glass of iced tea is sweeter than the rest because the sugar settles to the bottom. Summer is like that too. The first weeks stretch, long and leisurely, full of lingering golden light. At the beginning of the season, eons of time seem to lie ahead.

Then August hits. Then the end of August. The light is still glorious, but it fades earlier and earlier each night. The air is still warm, even hot, in the afternoons, but a crispness beneath the heat whispers rumours of fall. The days are sweeter, more poignant because they’re the last sips of summer.

And just like I tend to slow down midway through a drink, not wanting to finish it before I absolutely have to, I find myself trying to fend off September, spending as much time as I can outside, and allowing myself more breaks to soak things in, knowing—hating—that the bright months will be over soon.

This year I had the treat of houseguests to help me squeeze extra juicy goodness from the month. They stayed a few weeks and while I worked every morning because hey, we gotta eat and pay the bills and all that, I took off big chunks of time, too. We went on more than one daytrip and stopped to look at things that I’ve always meant to, but hadn’t got around to yet. (That’s why you should always invite summer guests. It forces you to stop taking the place you live for granted and to get out and play in your home terrain with new eyes.)

As ever, I marveled at the things to see here. We drove the crazy-bumpy, jungle road down into the Kitimat River where an expanse of round white stones stretches along the brilliant blue-green river as far as the eye can see. I posed by a fallen tree whose roots alone made me look miniscule.

We went to the fish hatchery and saw a mind-boggling amount of chum—so many, so close together, that the aqua river looked black where they huddled and churned, fighting to get up a pipe so they could spawn.

I finally explored an ancient looking set of moss covered stone steps out near Alcan. Apparently they once led to some now-no-more Hudson Bay Company building. I prefer to think they mark the entrance to a long forgotten castle.

We camped at Furlong Bay and if there’s a more beautiful campground anywhere, I don’t know where it is. The light playing through the dense, mossy trees was amber and magical. I saw a massive Great Horned owl. The beach was practically empty. Best of all, however, were the huge, rotted out tree stumps we discovered. They were like doorways into other worlds.

We meandered along the highway to Prince Rupert and got lost in the varying shades of blue, blue, blue—blue water, blue sky, blue mountain vistas. Then we were dizzied by all the greens. We daydreamed about the tiny islands. We oohed and ahhed over fresh halibut and salmon being cleaned on the dock and savoured the fishy-salt scent of the ocean.

And one evening, I came across this quote from Henry David Thoreau: I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least, and it is commonly more than that, sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements.

I don’t usually get four hours outdoors per day—I wish—but I so relate to his sentiments. Even as I type, the sun’s dipping lower. And as you read this, the days are growing shorter once more. Quick! Pour one more iced tea and head outside. Drink up every last sweet dreg of our gorgeous summer.

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“The Sweet Dregs of Summer” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, June 25, 2014 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”

Lessons From Bubble Pop

I have an embarrassing confession. I have an addiction. To Facebook games—specifically Tetris Battle and silly, bright-coloured, manically cheerful Bubble Pop Battle. I live in two states: on the wagon and off the wagon.
 
When I’m on the wagon, I accomplish things, meet deadlines, get work done in the yard, and even, occasionally, clean my house. When I’m off the wagon (have broken its wheels and driven it over a cliff!), I stay up way too late to play just one more round, lament how I never have time to write, explain to my family that we might move permanently to fend-for-yourself meals for dinner—and that will probably only work if Dad goes grocery shopping.
 
When I’m in this hand-cramped, escalating-theme-music-wormed state (the later, in case you don’t know, is when a song lodges in your head and won’t go away), I justify my lack of self-control with soothing rationalizations: “It’s good stress release,” or “These types of games help improve spatial skills,” or . . . “I don’t have a lot of other vices.”
 
Then something amazing happened. I actually learned a legitimately important lesson, or rather, had something I know but sometimes forget, reinforced in a silly, bright-coloured, manically cheerful way!
 
Like so many lessons, the Bubble Pop epiphany was triggered by crisis.
 
I logged into Facebook to play, I promise, just five rounds of Bubble Pop (and at a minute a round, that’s not too, too bad an indulgence, right?). Before I could hit “play,” however, a little box popped up announcing that after September 30, Bubble Pop was done. Would no longer be available. THE TRAUMA!!!!!!
 
The creators then, remembering their commitment to manic cheeriness and good will, added, “As a token of our appreciation, we have credited your account with tons of coins.”
 
Whoaaaa . . . Sounds like a dream, right? I certainly thought so. The coins are actually limitless, which means every bubble-bursting weapon (and life protection aid) was at my disposal. I could play forever. I could never die. Muauahahahhahahahahahahaha! A monster was almost born, except—
 
Except it turns out that in Bubble Pop, as in life, things that come too easily, without work or effort or some sort of cost (time, resources, etc.), lose their value and interest for me. Become boring. Unsatisfying. Blah.
 
I do, on occasion, like most of us I suppose, think things like:
 
If only I’d win the lottery, so I wouldn’t have to work anymore—life would be perfect!
 
If only all my relationships were completely effortless, nothing but an unending stream of Hallmark movie worthy moments forever—
 
If only I didn’t have to do chores, and the house and yard and laundry and dishes took care of themselves . . . I’d have limitless free time to explore things I really care about.
 
If only I didn’t have to struggle to learn new techniques, programs, or material . . . my work and creative life would be ideal.

 
No. Wrong. False. Thoughts like that are based on the erroneous notion that ease brings contentment. I find the reverse is true. Periods of rest, relaxation and “having a good time” are lovely (and necessary), but too much holidaying makes me restless. Irritable.  
 
Pushing myself. Digging deeper. Not knowing if I have the resources or ability to tackle a new task or pull off a new endeavour . . . exhilarating! Challenge keeps life interesting, makes work meaningful, and helps relationships continue to grow and deepen and be satisfying.
 
Bubble Pop can’t truly get full credit for reminding me of all this, but (sadly, embarrassingly!) it did trigger thought . . . and for now, until some other captivating Internet game snags me, I’m back on the wagon, working on things much more interesting and time-worthy than popping yellow, purple, red and blue bubbles with my oh-so-cute cannon . . . trying to ignore the part of me that misses the pop-pop-pop.

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“Lessons From Bubble Pop” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, September 25, 2013 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”
 

A New Year’s Pondering

"Mmmm" - Photo by Ramona Higginson

“Mmmm” – Photo by Ramona Higginson

I was playing on the Internet, avoiding my traditional January look-back/look-ahead (a time I set aside, usually with tea and a journal, to contemplate what I’ve accomplished the past year and make notes about what I’d like to get done in the new one), when I came across the following quote from Ellen Goodman: “We spend January 1 walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives . . . not looking for flaws, but for potential.”


It struck me as being both very true and very good advice. My head is usually full of details about things I don’t like about myself and want to change, areas I see myself falling down in that I want to shore up, and aspects of my relationships that need work. And this year (today!) is no different.

If one were to read any or all of my journals (And boy, I pity the poor fool who ever does—how boring and myopic my ramblings are!), he or she would see I’ve been dealing with the same stuff—the same questions, the same passions, the same laments, etc.—my whole life.

I do grow and change (or at least I hope I do!), but no matter what season a tree is in, it is still a tree, and I—much to my frustration at times—am always me.

For almost as long as I can remember, many of my primary goals, plans, and answer seeking have somehow centered around one or more—or some combination of—the following:

Faith. Is there a God? I believe, 100%, unequivocally, yes. What does He want/expect from us? How should I live? That gets trickier and sets the stage for a lot of my quandaries and questions.

Relationships. Why can’t I be all that I want to be for my friends and family—and why can’t they always be what I want/need them to be?

Pain. Personal, but also in the world at large.

My weight. I hate that honesty demands I mention it here. I want to be done having weight/body issues. I have wanted that since I was eleven. I’ll keep you posted if it ever actually comes to pass.

Writing. My grand passion—and the best way of dealing with life I’ve ever found. I always have tons of writing-related hopes and goals.

The point I’m getting to? Well, I’m not exactly sure. Part of me wants to write a ream of resolutions in keeping with my list of obsessions. The other part of me wants to pretend I’ve outgrown my old patterns of constant searching and questions, of discontent and striving.

But that’s why I like the quote. It doesn’t say we should’ve arrived at a place in our lives where we don’t have questions or see what we want to improve—or that there is some magical phase of life where no improvement is needed. It just says we should also look at the good we’ve already accomplished (or, perhaps, that exists without any help from us) and build on it.

And with those thoughts—and a mug of steaming Earl Grey at my side—I’ve decided to look at the rooms of my life with different eyes this year, and to journal about what I notice. I’ll still give time to plans and things I’d like to change, but I’m also aiming to acknowledge what I’ve already started and record things that hopefully I’m doing right, answers I believe I’ve found, areas that have healed, and ways I may have helped others—and can help further. There’s a lot of potential in 2013!

“A New Year’s Pondering” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, January 23, 2013 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”

November’s River

A friend wrote me a note the other day, part of which read, “ . . . It only reminded me that I used to write and that I don’t anymore and that is only one thing in a long list that I have lost along the way.”

Her words came back to me this Saturday as I considered the stark landscape of the depleted Skeena beneath the old bridge. Rocks, bare. Trees—no, trunks. Severed. Separated. Set apart. Stripped of bark and branch and leaf. Rootless. They looked like ivory bones on the earth’s silty guts.

She needs to get back to the creative things she let go of, I thought. She needs to.

Fall is an introspective season. Perhaps it’s because the weather forces a physical slow down and a turn to inward contemplation. Or perhaps it’s more primal: as nature goes dormant or dies, thoughts tune to the occurrence of the same in other parts of our lives. Or maybe, for me, it’s more personal. My parents both passed away in October, and fall seems indelibly linked to my own mortality. Whatever the reason, this time of year I find myself thinking about how I live and what I put my energy into.

I had a hard week. Month. Year. If it wasn’t for my writing, I don’t know what I would’ve done. Sounds melodramatic—and maybe it is, but I don’t care. I look at our world, at the things that go on in it, and I don’t know how—without music, without art, without poetry and stories—people stay sane.

Most people loved some creative pursuit, I hate to say it, when they were young. What is it about adult life that makes so many of us forsake the things we enjoy most? Sometimes it’s because dreams and desires honestly change, but a lot of time (maybe even most of the time) we give up those passions, those unique activities that make us us, out of fear, out of misplaced feelings of obligation, out of pressure from people who don’t get it (and don’t get us even if they love us).

I’ve long battled feeling selfish. I spend hours by myself—and I need more than I get. I don’t keep a tidy house. I tune my family out sometimes. (I also love them sincerely and passionately, and try really hard to know them, respect them and give them space to be who they need to be, etc.—though that’s a whole other column). I can be distracted—and unapologetically disinterested in some things, like small talk.

Yet my writing has made me a better wife, mom, person. I think. I hope. It is good for people to pursue their passions—and as a parent it’s critical. We have to model what we value: thoughtfulness, a pursuit of things with intrinsic value—things with cultural, emotional, mental, or spiritual significance. Society will do all it can to sway our children (and us!) to a life of materialism, vapid pleasures, and looks-based self-worth. We need to counteract that influence the best we can, and I think the best way to do that is to show the rightness of thinking, learning, and expressing.

Letting ourselves sing, play an instrument, carve, write, garden, fish, quilt, sew, work in a shop—the list could go on and on—is crucial in so many ways. It helps us deal with stress, with sadness, with anger. It reminds us that joy can co-exist with sadness, beauty can survive hard times, and one can find peace even amidst inner storms.

The Skeena is lonely in November, but there’s beauty in her sharp grey-on-black-on-white lines and something inspiring in her resolute journey onward. If you have regrets about things undone or neglected, make this the year you take up that dropped course, cause, art, or hobby. Live as you feel you’re supposed to. That’s the thing about things that get lost along the way. They can be stumbled upon later. Found. Reclaimed.

This piece was originally published in the Terrace Standard, November 21, 2012 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.” I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to share here (normally it would’ve been archived at evbishop.com, but that’s another story as you may know!). “November’s River” is not your typical December reading, but ah, well . . . We all experience November rivers at some time or another. I’ll post something lighter and Christmassy when I’m . . . feeling lighter and more Christmassy. :)